By Ken Stone
Billionaire Tom Steyer gave a stemwinder Wednesday, railing against the “liars and cheaters” of the Trump administration and calling the White House “malevolent, shallow and incompetent.”
But a La Mesa-Foothills Democratic Club audience didn’t hear what some wanted most from the biggest single donor in the 2016 election.
Steyer, 59, wouldn’t commit to running for office.“I’ve spent the last four months trying to figure out [my future],” he told 200 at the La Mesa Community Center. “I will do anything to support the values and the rights and the vision of the people in this room.”
He said the only question was: “What is the most effective way I can do (this)? It is not about me.”
People shouted for him to run for governor or the U.S. Senate (if Dianne Feinstein, 83, doesn’t seek a fifth full term in 2018). A single male voice yelled: “Run for president!”
Steyer said NextGen Climate, the lobbying group he founded in 2013 to “prevent climate disaster and promote prosperity for every American,” is using every tool at its disposal to inform and mobilize the public.
“And every single day, we’re going to actively oppose Trump’s attempts to take away our rights and prioritize the corporate interest,” he said. “Nothing is off the table.”With his wife Kathryn “Kat” Taylor, Steyer was the top individual donor to federal races and causes last year — their $91.2 million topping conservative donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson by $8.7 million, according to OpenSecrets.org.
(In 2014, says the Los Angeles Times, “he dropped more than $74 million into congressional and gubernatorial campaigns, almost three times the $27.7 million spent by the second-biggest individual donor, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.”)
Steyer was introduced by Diane Takvorian, executive director and co-founder of the Environmental Health Coalition, which helped Steyer’s group last year defeat Proposition 23 (which would have suspended the “Global Warming Act of 2006”).
In a half-hour Q&A session after his 20-minute talk from notes, Steyer addressed issues including administration efforts to gut the EPA (“Their chances of being successful are nil”) and homelessness. He celebrated recent passage of Measure H in Los Angeles County — a quarter-cent sales tax for homeless programs — saying: “We cannot have this glorious society and leave people behind.”
He cited his “great, good fortune” of being better off than his parents and grandparents and being able to live in California (in San Francisco).
“My only goal is not about me but what we can do to provide the kind of place that our children deserve and to preserve the world,” he said. “You always leave the campsite better than you found it.”In response to a question about how Democrats can counter “this [conservative media] machine of lies,” Steyer noted a friend in the “poorest county in West Virginia” who shared many of the same values as Californians.
“I don’t want to leave those people behind,” he repeated, even though he called the country more divided than at any time since the Civil War.
“It is almost impossible to get the [truthful] news into those people,” he said. “They have built a wall around themselves.”
But he’s best known for speaking on environmental and civil rights issues in a slew of NextGen commercials last year.
Steyer confessed to being shocked by the Nov. 8 results — having expected Hillary Clinton to win the presidency and the Democrats to retake control of the Senate.
In a talk akin to a stump speech, Steyer bemoaned the “longterm and desperate threat to our climate and the real attack on the idea of every American being a full citizen and a full human being,” which he called “something that I take incredibly personally.”
He didn’t mince words on Donald Trump.
The president and his enablers, he said, “have launched an all-out assault on the American way of life,” attacking “very basic rights” including freedom of religion, the press and “even the right to vote.”“And they’re waging a war against truth itself,” he said in casual clothes, no tie, from a lectern.
He acknowledged Democratic victories in the state, but warned against a “Fortress California” mind-set.
“In many ways, we’re at the lowest of low points,” he said. “Our back is to the wall. They are liars. They are cheats. They don’t even pretend to represent every American. So if we can’t organize and inform and engage our fellow citizens now, shame on us.”
But he took solace in how earlier setbacks were reversed, including Proposition 187 in 1994 and Proposition 8 in 2008 — which he said ignited movements that fought for immigrant rights and won marriage equality.
“So we know that Donald Trump’s presidency must not spell an end to justice and the rights of Americans — but be the beginning of a movement to ensure that what happened in 2016 never happens again.”
He concluded his prepared remarks: “The truth is alive. Right is on our side, and no matter how hard the path, we are going to win — and justice is going to prevail.”
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